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Cracked joints found in BP's Georgia pipeline

A vital $3bn (£1.6bn) pipeline designed by BP to help meet Britain's oil needs well into the next decade has been riddled with corrosion, it emerged yesterday.

Documents submitted to a Trade and Industry select committee reveal that 1,260 joints in one section alone had been found to be defective, according to a study by WorleyParsons.

The US consultancy was asked to investigate the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) link by lenders following speculation at the beginning of this year that BP and its partners had run into trouble.

The report - made public for the first time yesterday - showed that 26% of pipeline joints in Georgia had problems with cracking due to difficulties with the coatings used.

A further 300 joints on the Azerbaijan section of the pipe had similar problems and WorleyParsons criticised the "inaction" by the BTC management team, which had "allowed the problems to become greater than necessary".

An even more damaging note to the committee came from another former consultant to BP, Derek Mortimore, who described decisions taken with regard to pipeline coating technology as "appalling".

He argued that the UK oil company issued an innovative specification for protecting the 1,760 kilometre pipeline that was inappropriate and underdeveloped.

"The best you can say is that their fundamental decision to use the unproven system was a guess," Mr Mortimore claims.

The select committee members published the documents as they quizzed senior staff from the Export Credit Guarantee Department about the pipeline, which has received £81m of public money through the organisation.

Martin O'Neill, the committee chairman, expressed "disappointment" at the ECGD's lack of transparency over the BTC pipeline, which has also attracted criticism from human rights and environmental activists. The arm of the Department of Trade and Industry had only provided some information a day ago, months after it was originally requested.

John Weiss, deputy chief executive of the ECGD, insisted that it had been hampered by having to consult so many other parties, some of which had stressed the "sensitivity" of the information.

BP last night dismissed the criticism, saying that it had investigated all the allegations and had put them all right.

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